‘I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t give it a shot’ | Veteran turns pro golfer

Visit Knoxville Open Korn Ferry Tournament
This weekend the Visit Knoxville Open will field 156 players. One of the golfers has fulfilled two callings in life.
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 7:25 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - This weekend the Visit Knoxville Open will field 156 players. One of the golfers has fulfilled two callings in life; serving his country in the Air Force and fulfilling his passion of becoming a professional golfer.

Tom Whitney took a risk in 2014- to either stay in the military or become a full-time professional golfer.

“I just knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t give it a shot,” Tom said.

Tom graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 2010. The same year he turned pro.

However, golf would take a back seat as he served on active duty until 2014.

“I still have a great time representing the air force in what I’m doing,” said Tom.

A path he didn’t see himself taking if it weren’t for his older brother, Bob.

“Maybe the thought of another two years together and he was also on the golf team as well,” Tom said. “So, I’m sure that was a huge appeal in me deciding to go there.”

Their sibling bond strengthened with each visit to greens. Then before long, the older brother could no longer outhit the younger.

“In high school, he was often referred to as, ‘oh you’re tom’s older brother,’” said Tom. “But then I felt the other side of it when I was a lowly freshman at the Academy and Bob was doing great things and now I’m Bob’s younger brother once again.”

Tom won five events while competing for the Air Force Academy’s Division I Program, and was in the top 25 of the individual ranking his senior year. In 2006, once he arrived at the campus in Colorado, Tom learned what it meant to be a part of something greater than yourself.

“That’s when I kind of became a lot less self-centered and more kind of a part of something bigger. I get to serve my country and that’s a really cool thing to be able to claim,” said Tom.

After he decided to retire from the Air Force in 2010, he’s had 12 top ten finishes as a full-time professional golfer. One of those top ten finishes happened this season at the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation, where he finished fifth.

Now, he’s in Knoxville for the Korn Ferry Tournament at Holston Hills Country Club, a course he hadn’t competed on before this week.

“It seems fairly forgiving off the tees,” said Tom. “But every green is lopped back to front and I know they’re going to speed them up. SO make sure you’re short on pretty much every approach and I think you’ll have a good deal of success this week.”

Tom’s biggest fan, Bob, is right at his side.

“He was always supportive of my journey and he was one of my biggest fans,” said Tom.

Tom lost his older brother to suicide in 2020. But, Bob is ever-present on Tom’s mind, especially while he’s playing.

“Oh yeah, I use his dog tag out on the greens,” said Tom.

Tom continued, “So I always feel that he’s out there watching over me. I’m very grateful that I had a brother that was so involved and part of my journey. He was usually the first text in or the first text out after I finished a tournament. He was always watching. So yeah, I definitely feel him out here.”

Also giving Tom an extra push along the way, his other family.

“I have guys from all four services, Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines coming up to me every week, personally introducing themselves and telling me they’re one of my fans. So that’s pretty cool that I have the whole military brotherhood, essentially cheering me on,” said Tom.

Tom comes to Knoxville 48th on the Korn Ferry Money List. Tom will tee off for the first time Thursday afternoon at 12:35pm.

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